Telling The Story

Telling The Story
– On comics, the genre, the art form, and narrative versus artistic expression

By request from Life’s Elsewhere,, this post will deal with some of my views on comics – as a genre and as an art form.
Life’s Elsewhere asked me some interesting questions here, and I will answer them the best I can in this post.
These are my opinions and should be taken as such. I’m very interested in other opinions, and I’m sure that Life’s Elsewhere is too, so feel free to comment with whatever opinions you may have on the matter.

Comics introduces something which might turn out to be a distraction otherwise, or a constraint. It is the narrative. Do you compose a frame-within-a-sequence with similar liberty that you enjoy in a single-frame composition?

No. Obviously a single frame in a sequence has a whole other set of devices connected to it than a “single-frame composition”, as you call it, would have. A single-frame composition will need to work solely on it’s own, where a frame in a sequence has to be created with attention to what comes before and what comes after.

Do you think ‘realism’ is a pain in a narrative-sequence whereas digital art has so successfully escaped its pressures?

I am not quite sure what you’re thinking of. Realism, understood as credibility in a narrative sequence depends on how successful you are at telling the story. Narrative flaws will intrude on the reader’s enjoyment of the story. This doesn’t change with the fact that digital art forms to some extent have pushed the envelope of what is possible.
I think that the term “digital art” is often more misleading than descriptive. You may say that these lines of text are “digital art”, simply because of the fact that it is written and produced digitally, i.e. on a computer. It is kind of like focusing on the type of paint instead of the painting itself. The computer, the same way as the paint, is the means to an end, nothing more.

Can a single frame of a comic, or a single page draw attention of being ‘autonomous canvas’ like a non-narrative frame?

Well, yes and no. Since a particular frame or page is only a part of the whole, it would make as much sense to isolate it, as it would to tear out a page from a book and read it without the rest. On the other hand, this does not mean that a single frame or a single page cannot convey any message, or be seen as an artwork itself. It can, as it is seen in for example Roy Lichtenstein’s works.
Again, I would compare it to a conventional novel. By quoting a couple of lines, taking them out of context, you assign these few lines with a new meaning, a meaning as potent as the work in its whole, but completely different. It’s becomes a different work, you might say, a work in itself.
The same is the case with comics. You can isolate a single frame, and take it as-is, but it would just not be the same as seeing the work in its full extent.

What I like about contemporary digital art is that it evokes, suggests, provokes things in mind…it uses photographs, i.e. fragments of reality, to suggest something more imaginative (I mean the 1920s surrealists have missed the Photoshops and GIMPs and Paint.NETs!)…But won’t similar leaps of imagination get a bit restrained in a narrative-art? In other words, will narrative art therefore remain secondary to a digital visual artist?

Depends on the “visual artist”, really. By saying “visual artist” you almost imply that the focus is mostly on the visual/graphic aspect, and less on the narrative.
I would say that to me, when writing a graphic story, the story is everything. And to tell a story in the form of a comic, you will need a narrative and the graphics. However, one does not rule out the other. A good story with lousy artwork is a pain to read. And vice versa. Both aspects has to contribute their best to advance the story. In the end it’s all about telling a story.
In the best case scenario, the reader will never notice the technical aspects of the narrative, neither those of the graphics, but only the story. If the story is good enough, and the graphics and the narrative tells the story in the best possible way, that is, in a way that makes the reader focus on the story, and absorb narrative and artwork unconsciously, you will have succeeded.
It’s very simple, actually. How many times have you heard people talk about the letters on the pages when they are reading a book? It never happens. They are concerned with what is happening in the story. What do the characters feel? What will happen when she finds out that…?
When we see the word “she” in a book, we do not see it as the three letters, S, H, and E, in black print on white paper. We understand it, we see a person, not a word. Much the same way with graphics in a comic.

To answer your question whether the “leaps of imagination” will be restrained in an art form that is depending on a narrative, I would say that it can be the case, but not necessarily. It is true that as the teller of a story, you will have to carefully assign to effects or devices that will advance the story and not oppose it. However the way you choose to do it, is as free as you want it to be.

– Biyang Hansen


~ by Biyang Hansen on October 1, 2007.

3 Responses to “Telling The Story”

  1. Thanks Biyang thanks! Will provoke you more later; yes, I also don’t exactly like when graphic novels become overwhelmingly visual, highlighting style more than the story…and it happens often.

  2. hey biyang! i got bored with sickness and i am back at my pc! 😀

    coming back to the topic at hand, well, as an artist, i never really think too much about the form. i am kind of a go-with-the-flow type. i do something as long as it interests me and i don’t care how someone labels it. having said that, i should also include that there are always grey areas concerning labels. are there are not visuals that have a narrative style? and texts that have a visual approach?

    as for seperating an element in a work of art, well, generally speaking, i think the artist is successful if the viewer’s experience is seamless. but then what if the artist wanted to jerk the viewer every now and then? hmmm, reminds me of brecht’s theory of alienation.

    the bottom line is, only the artist knows what s-he wants and there are no right or wrong way of doing it or defining it. “the author is dead”. art is autonomous. and i prefer it that way! 😀

  3. Welcome back Sanjida!

    As for the topic, I couldn’t agree more. You’re spot on when you say “there’s no right or wrong way of doing it” – there’s only a good and a bad way, and even the bad way isn’t always bad. That is what’s making the whole thing so beautiful. There are no rules but your own, nobody that will force you to do something you don’t want to do. And at the same time, that’s what’s making it so hard. Being your own judge leaves you without a frame of reference – you’ll have to decide yourself whether what you’re doing is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, if it has become what you wanted it to, or not. And even if it hasn’t, and you’re dissatisfied with the result, it may show up to be someone else’s all-time favorite. It might be the best thing they ever saw, while you’re thinking “it’s the worst thing I’ve ever made”.

    I guess that proves your point: “art is autonomous.” And I too prefer it that way.

    Thanks for your comment.

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